Senate F-22 Vote Makes America Safer
Notably in the same week the US Senate voted 58-40 to finally stop production of the 30-year old F-22 Raptor fighter, Secretary of Defense Robert Gates announces a 22,000 increase in Army strength. Mr Gates must have been somewhat relieved by the vote, as he is now able to devote more attention planning for present threats and foes without worrying over future imaginary wars, or in the case of the Raptor, enemies of the past.
Fred Kaplan calls the Senate vote “a big deal”:
Not only is this a major victory for Secretary of Defense Robert Gates, who lobbied strenuously (something he rarely does) to kill this program, and for President Barack Obama, who pledged to veto the defense bill if it contained a nickel for more F-22s. The vote might also mark the beginning of a new phase in defense politics, a scaling-back of the influence that defense contractors have over budgets and policies…
That’s really what the F-22 has come to be about. The Air Force shrewdly spread the plane’s contracts to firms in 46 states, thus giving a solid majority of senators—and a lot of House members, too—a financial (and, therefore, electoral) stake in the program’s survival.
The vote may also be a recognition that we are in a new era of warfare, away from one of Cold War deterrence to a more active role, militarily but also economically in the affairs of the world. No longer can we sit behind sophisticated air defenses, or trust in our Navy to shield us when a terrorist with a suicide bomb can change the balance of power. While the threat of great-power conflict has declined significantly (an ongoing process since World War 2), the dire need to strike at rogue terrorists “where they live” is even greater, especially when they come armed with advanced weapons bought from the open arms markets comparable to our own.
Canceling the Raptor is also significant if you consider it a parting from 20th Century 3rd Generation Warfare, to 21st Century 4GW. Last year we wrote about this trend:
It becomes increasingly evident these are all signs that the military is unable to produce new technology and release it into the hands of our fighting forces in time for the wars we are fighting now. Almost none of the major defense projects underway before the start of the War on Terror has had any bearing on the conflict at all, some 7 years later. Other than the Navy’s fine F-18 Super Hornet, itself a retread of the 1970’s Hornet light fighter, none have even seen combat, including the USAF’s much touted F-22 Raptor.
The attitude in the military seems to be to try and deter wars with daunting and high tech weaponry. When such a wishful strategy fails, as it often does, the boots on the ground are often left with antiquated weapons left over from the last war (the A-10 Warthog), or the rare low tech platform rushed into the service (like Stryker armored cars and MRAP vehicles) just in time to make a difference.
The more technical services like the Air Force and Navy seem to look on the insurgency wars we frequently find ourselves involved in with casual boredom. They are eager to end such conflicts so they can return to “real” warfighting. This also includes periodic changes in strategies ( though little change in weapon’s procurement), endless excesses to prepare for the really Big Wars, and frequent bartering with Congress for the latest pet project which the admirals or generals have taken a liking to.
These days, the third rate powers which the Pentagon refuses to take serious are arming themselves with first world weaponry. Cruise missile armed submarines are on the market for whoever possesses enough oil wealth to afford them. Non-states like Hezbollah can arm themselves with the latest SAMs through their sponsors in Syria. Even African Warlords can shoot down our helicopters with the masses of RPG weapons available on the arms market. Terrorists like Al Qaeda can hijack entire nations with a few home-made bombs strategically placed.
The arms market is becoming less about heavy tanks, air superiority fighters, or guided missile battleships. These weapons, unlike their low tech brethren, can no longer be massed produced quickly. They have become magnificent works of art which only a few master craftsmen (whose numbers are also shrinking) can produce in dwindling numbers.
The future then belongs to tiny computer gadgets, which are bought off the shelf and obsolete in a few years. Such weapons will include robots for use in the air, on land and under the sea. Older type weapon may include light armored vehicles, light fighters, and light missiles boats; all of which will be slightly updated versions or existing copies of older designs.
This was written as a rebuttal to an article at the Examiner.com.